Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero

Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero Review

Leigh Montville has compiled a wonderful biography of one of baseball's most enigmatic players, and perhaps the game's greatest hitter of all-time---Ted Williams. Clearly, the author has a great deal of respect for Williams' hitting prowess; however, he gives a balanced perspective on the human side of the player; a man with a short temper and generally sullen attitude towards his teammates, fans, and sportswriters. Certainly, this attitude probably cost him the MVP Award on at least a couple of occasions, most notably in 1941, when all he did was hit .406 that year.

Williams was driven by a passion to be the greatest hitter to play the game, and amassed an impressive .344 lifetime batting average, with a tremendous amount of raw power; his productivity as a hitter was nothing short of incredible. Unlike a guy like Ty Cobb, who hit for a higher average, but used his blazing speed to beat out many hits; Williams hit slashing lines drives with startling consistency throughout his career, which was shortened substantially by his frequent stints as a Navy fighter pilot. This was a true war hero and a man's man.

Certainly, Ted Williams could be an unpleasant guy to deal with, especially when anyone questioned his character or his desire to play hard. He was frequently at odds with the fans, especially during his tumultuous early years, and his gruff personality didn't endear himself to the sportswriters covering the team.

But to the people who were close to this man, Ted Williams was a man of strong character; possessing a level of honesty & integrity seldom seen in anyone. He simply lacked tact; not good moral values. Anyone who didn't see that, didn't matter, as far as Williams was concerned.

Whether or not you liked him as a person, it's clear this man was driven with a passion for excellence and had a moral fiber that few men possessed; the sad truth is, few truly understood that fact.

Montville's biography sheds some light on the true character of this baseball legend, who played the game at a level very few have accomplished; and who truly was a good man, down to his core; and a true American hero.

Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero Overview

He was The Kid. The Splendid Splinter. Teddy Ballgame. One of the greatest figures of his generation, and arguably the greatest baseball hitter of all time. But what made Ted Williams a legend – and a lightning rod for controversy in life and in death? What motivated him to interrupt his Hall of Fame career twice to serve his country as a fighter pilot; to embrace his fans while tangling with the media; to retreat from the limelight whenever possible into his solitary love of fishing; and to become the most famous man ever to have his body cryogenically frozen after his death? New York Times bestselling author Leigh Montville, who wrote the celebrated Sports Illustrated obituary of Ted Williams, now delivers an intimate, riveting account of this extraordinary life.

Still a gangly teenager when he stepped into a Boston Red Sox uniform in 1939, Williams’s boisterous personality and penchant for towering home runs earned him adoring admirers--the fans--and venomous critics--the sportswriters. In 1941, the entire country followed Williams's stunning .406 season, a record that has not been touched in over six decades. At the pinnacle of his prime, Williams left Boston to train and serve as a fighter pilot in World War II, missing three full years of baseball. He was back in 1946, dominating the sport alongside teammates Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Bobby Doerr. But Williams left baseball again in 1952 to fight in Korea, where he flew thirty-nine combat missions—crash-landing his flaming, smoke-filled plane, in one famous episode.

Ted Willams's personal life was equally colorful. His attraction to women (and their attraction to him) was a constant. He was married and divorced three times and he fathered two daughters and a son. He was one of corporate America's first modern spokesmen, and he remained, nearly into his eighties, a fiercely devoted fisherman. With his son, John Henry Williams, he devoted his final years to the sports memorabilia business, even as illness overtook him. And in death, controversy and public outcry followed Williams and the disagreements between his children over the decision to have his body preserved for future resuscitation in a cryonics facility--a fate, many argue, Williams never wanted.

With unmatched verve and passion, and drawing upon hundreds of interviews, acclaimed best-selling author Leigh Montville brings to life Ted Williams's superb triumphs, lonely tragedies, and intensely colorful personality, in a biography that is fitting of an American hero and legend.

Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero Specifications

Leigh Montville's Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero is the definitive biography that baseball fans have been waiting for. Montville, who was a sports columnist for the Boston Globe and then a senior writer for Sports Illustrated is an admitted Red Sox and Williams fanatic, and his passion for his hero rings clearly from every page, along with his clear baseball expertise. But Montville does not hide Williams's flaws. The young Williams was temperamental and justified bad behavior with batting prowess that could excuse just about anything. Quick to anger, "the Kid" had a gift for foul language, too.

Montville's study offers insides accounts of Williams's obsessive development as a hitter and his constant struggle to perfect his swing (mistakenly called "natural" by sports writers with little understanding of his extensive preparation). The chapter on 1941, perhaps the greatest year in his career, draws on research and interviews never before published. Montville lets whole passages stand uninterrupted--from Williams's manager, Joe Cronin, from his teammate Dom DiMaggio, and from other players and baseball officials who tell the story of Williams's quest for a .400 batting average. The tale of the final day of the season (when he refused to be benched and went six for eight in a double header to jump from .39955 to his final total, .406) is as pulse-pounding as any thriller.

Alongside its essential focus on Williams's baseball life, the book also delves into his military service during both World War II and the Korean War, his passion for sports fishing, and his commitment to helping children through the Jimmy Fund. Finally, Montville devotes a chapter to the controversy after Williams's death, exposing the back-and-forth among Williams's heirs in the bizarre decision to freeze his body in a cryogenic warehouse in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Montville's biography makes a good case that Williams was, if not the greatest hitter ever to play the game, certainly among them. For his focused, scientific approach to hitting, Williams is unmatched in the history of the game. His life, marred perhaps by a temper and occasional immaturity that soured his reputation in Boston, is one of true sports greatness. Early in the book, Montville argues that Williams is less appreciated today than he might be because he played out most of his 19-year career in the era before televised highlights. But with Montville's efforts to capture first-hand accounts of Williams's achievements, The Splendid Splinter's legacy is assured. --Patrick O'Kelley

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